There are currently around 80,000 cruise ship workers stranded aboard 100 vessels that have no passengers and that, in many cases, have been denied entry to most ports around the world. One Bulgarian worker who tested positive for COVID-19 aboard the Celebrity Apex, which is currently docked in a French shipyard, has now become the first plaintiff in a class-action suit against Celebrity Cruises.
Crew members and passengers alike became sickened on both the Diamond Princess and Grand Princess cruise ships — a drama that unfolded with hundreds of California residents aboard each of the ships who would later have to endure lengthy quarantines after they arrived back in the U.S., and while we were still trying to contain outbreaks rather than mitigate a pandemic.
But in many ways, the plight of cruise ship workers through this crisis has been more harrowing than that of passengers. Very often these are service workers living for months aboard ships very far from their homes. And just as in the case of the largely Filipino crew that remains stuck on the Grand Princess after several weeks sitting in San Francisco Bay, those who work on cruise ships that are marooned in various waters around the globe right now are facing major logistical and health challenges either trying to get home to loved ones, or just trying to survive amid an outbreak.
54-year-old Alexandra Nedeltcheva was one of those crew members. After working as a waitress for Celebrity Cruises for 11 years, the Bulgarian national was stuck on the Celebrity Apex in French waters when she tested positive for COVID-19. As the New York Times reports today, she was quarantined in her tiny cabin aboard the newly built ship — it was supposed to launch this spring — until Celebrity released her and flew her back to Bulgaria, where she is finishing out her quarantine in an Airbnb.
She filed suit in Miami against Celebrity Cruises this week, with the help of a law firm that specializes in cruise lawsuits called Lipcon, Margulies, Alsina & Winkleman, and it's a class action suit that could just be the first of several.
"Nobody cares about the little people, if they get sick, or don’t get sick," Nedeltcheva tells the Times.
Advocates for the Filipino community in the Bay Area have been actively trying to call attention to the plight of the Grand Princess crew after the ship docked in San Francisco last week for supplies and then left without allowing any crew members off. One Filipino crew member died in San Francisco after being removed from the ship last month, and while some others were successfully repatriated, hundreds remain onboard the ship. According to VesselFinder, the ship is now sitting off the coast of Mexico near Tijuana along with two other Princess Cruise Lines ships, the Royal Princess and the Star Princess — the Norwegian Joy and the Celebrity Eclipse are also idling nearby.
Another Filipino community advocate, Henry Boland Howard, who is the honorary consul for the Philippines for the state of Florida, similarly arranged repatriation flights for around 2,500 Carnival Cruises crew members out of Miami on Ethiopian Airlines charters, per the Times.
But with tens of thousands more cruise workers stranded all over the world, this is becoming a humanitarian crisis involving many countries.
In the U.S., the CDC has halted all cruise operations and refused travel on commercial airlines to any cruse crew members. And in some cases, even the home countries of some of these crew members are reluctant to have them return because of fears that they could bring the virus home.
Michael Winkleman, an attorney for Ms. Nedeltcheva, says to the Times, "It’s really been a nightmare for the crew in a lot of ways... They are halfway around the world from their families, alone, in quarantine. Morale is extremely low on the ships."
Meanwhile, passengers on the ships are filing their own suits as well, with the first class action against Princess Cruise Lines having arrived in federal court in San Francisco last week.
Also on Wednesday KPIX reported on a new suit against Princess Cruises and parent company Carnival Cruise Lines, this one from a Texas woman whose husband died from the coronavirus after disembarking from the Grand Princess in Oakland last month. Plaintiff Susan Dorety alleges that while Princess Cruises alerted everyone on the Grand Princess's previous February trip to Mexico that there had been coronavirus infections onboard, the same alert was never given to the passengers who boarded the already infected ship in San Francisco on February 21. The suit further claims, as did last week's class action, that Princess Cruises failed to tell passengers that a sick crew member was evacuated from the ship when they arrived in Hawaii.
Also Dorety's suit claims that the cruise company never informed passengers that they could be medically evacuated during the period of time that the ship was idling off the California coast. Michael Dorety later died in isolation at an Oakland hospital.
"This cruise line company put money ahead of its passengers’ well-being, and it cost Michael Dorety his life," says Mrs. Dorety's attorney, Rusty Hardin, in a statement.